Feast of All Saints
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA
John the Apostle – in an ecstatic state – has a vision of heaven. He sees angels, fantastic beasts, thrones, and a host of people dressed all in white. An elder in the vision asks John to identify these people. John turns the question around and leaves the elder to answer it himself. He says, “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress. . .” And not only have they survived the time of great distress, “they have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.” These are the mournful, the poor in spirit, the meek and clean of heart; these are the peacemakers and those who sought and found righteousness in the face of violent persecution. These are the saints of God who survived their time of trial on earth by giving themselves wholly to Christ. These named and unnamed saints enjoy a view of the Beatific Vision worthy of those who find the strength to lay claim to their inheritance as children of God, who find the endurance necessary to survive and thrive in a world bent on their destruction. For us, these men and women are superheroes, exemplars, and friends-near-God. What must we do, who must we be to join them around the throne?
In his first letter, John answers our questions, “Beloved: see what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God.” God's love is bestowed on us. Given to us. Some translations read, “See what love the Father has lavished on us. . .” God's love for us is overflowing, abundant, generous, and freely donated. Why? Because God is Love. It is who He is and what He does. Love. This bit of truth cannot be delivered firmly or often enough. In our finite imaginations, we might imagine God to be a being, a person who possesses certain characteristics like we do – shape, size, weight; personality traits and habits of mind and body. Like us, we might imagine that God picks and chooses who He loves, who He hates, who to punish or reward. We might imagine that – like us – it is best to stay on His good side. Say nice things about Him and to Him. Give Him gifts. Try hard not to make Him angry. But none of this is who God is. God is not a being or a person like us. We are persons like Him. But He is not a person who can be manipulated or persuaded into giving us goodies. By nature, in His essence, God is love. All that He is, all that He does is Love. And He has lavishly bestowed Himself upon us so that now we are His children, heirs to His kingdom.
What John the Apostle sees in his heavenly vision is the saints of God enjoying their inheritance. So like God were they in this life that at their deaths they raced to the throne and became barely distinguishable from the glory that surrounds the face of God. So like God were they in this life that when they died they leaped from the truths, goods, and beauties down here to Truth, Goodness, and Beauty Himself in heaven. While among us, these men and women saw through the signs and wonders of creation; past the veils of revelation; around the words and deeds of virtue; and straight into the heaven itself. And from this sight, they drew the strength and endurance necessary to do all that they had vowed to do: to be Christ for others. We celebrate their collective feast tonight not to honor their achievement of heaven nor to flatter them for favors. We celebrate this feast to honor their fortitude, their perseverance, and their example of faith. They freely accepted and received the love that God bestowed upon them, and then carried that love out into the world as living signs of His mercy. They lived as children of God, and so can we.
We were made to be saints not sinners. Though we were born in sin, we were baptized into the life and death of Christ and reborn perfectly clean. Our rebirth as children of God – living in His Church – gives us all that we need to become perfect as He is perfect. The only question is: do you want to be a saint? If you do, then accept and receive the extravagant love that God is bestowing on you, and turn that love outward toward the world as His witness. What good does this turning outward do you? Think of it this way: when you wash your car, the water-hose gets wet before your car does. The one who delivers God's love to the world is blessed by His love as it passes through to the world. The more you love, the more you are blessed. To be “of the blessed” is to love extravagantly, freely with the love only God Himself can be and give.
God's saints persevere. They endure this trial. There are clean. Free from every spot of sin, they perfectly deliver the love that God bestows on them. And they do it all as priests, religious, bishops, mothers, fathers, husbands and wives, virgins, single men and women; as artists, poets, doctors, sailors, soldiers, and students; as fishermen, tax-collectors, lawyers, and thieves. Who they are and what they do before they become saints only serves to direct their loving-work in the world. After they accept and receive God's abundant love, and take up Christ's cross to serve, they become perfectly who they are created to be: saints on the way to heaven.
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